Become a Domestic Violence Counselor – Education & Licensing Guide

Within the field of counseling are many specializations. Domestic violence counselors are mental health professionals who specialize in helping victims of domestic violence. Often, victims of domestic violence need special consideration due to the physical and emotional abuse that is performed at the hands of an intimate partner or relative.

Sometimes, domestic violence is called intimate partner violence when the abuse is perpetrated by someone with whom the victim is in a close personal or sexual relationship. Domestic violence can occur between any people in a household, such as between a parent and child, siblings, or even housemates. Victims and abusers in intimate partner violence may or may not live together in the same household.

According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, intimate partner violence affects more than 12 million people each year. Nearly half of all women and men in the United States have experienced psychological aggression by an intimate partner in their lifetime. Most of the time, though certainly not all, females experience the highest rates of intimate partner violence. Furthermore, most victims of domestic violence are between the ages of 18 and 34.

Domestic violence counselors can also help victims of dating violence, elder abuse, financial abuse, sexual harassment, stalking, human trafficking, or any other aspect of abuse related to unhealthy or inappropriate relationships. Domestic violence counselors can help children, men, women, and transgender people—any of whom can be in an abusive situation. Sometimes, there is a threat of violence or even death when a victim leaves their abuser. A domestic violence counselor must be able to understand these difficulties and help their clients with compassion and respect.

How to Become a Domestic Violence Counselor

In most cases, employers are looking for domestic violence counselors who have achieved at least a master’s degree in mental health counseling and have gone on to either specialize or become credentialed as a domestic violence counselor. The higher the education completed, the greater the earning potential and the more employable the counselor is.

Education of a Domestic Violence Counselor

Some states or colleges offer domestic violence advocate certificates, such as California, which allows for a person to complete a 40-hour training allowing them to pursue volunteer or employment opportunities working with survivors of domestic abuse. A certificate such as this provides a working knowledge of the fundamentals of domestic violence and intimate partner violence, familiarizes the students with resources and procedures, and provides a framework for helping victims improve their situations.

A master’s degree in domestic violence counseling is much more in-depth. Earning a bachelor’s degree is the first step in achieving this level of education, as master’s degree programs typically require a four-year degree. In some cases, entry to the master’s program is not contingent on the type of degree previously earned. Some schools, however, require a bachelor’s degree in a closely related or complementary field such as counseling, social work, psychology, or sociology. Having a minor in counseling is also often preferred, as is having paid or volunteer experience in the field.

Many master’s programs offer a master of arts or master of science in clinical mental health counseling, with specializations available. For instance, Walden University offers an online master of science in clinical mental health counseling. Walden’s online learning program is accredited by CACREP and has five diverse specializations to choose from:

  • Addiction counseling
  • Marriage, couples, and family counseling
  • Military families and culture
  • Trauma and crisis counseling
  • Forensic counseling

Domestic violence counselors could work with people in any of those scenarios. With a marriage, couples, and family counseling specialization, the counselor would help their clients deal with family violence or other concerns related to domestic issues. A domestic violence counselor could gain experience working specifically with military families, or domestic violence related to addiction issues. A rape crisis counselor could help victims with their trauma from sexual abuse. In forensic counseling, counselors work alongside the criminal justice system to understand the treatment of offenders and the proper resolution of criminal cases.

The National Association of Forensic Counselors (NAFC) offers certification, which allows a professional to qualify as an expert witness under the Federal Rules of Procedure section 702 pertaining to expert witnesses. The NAFC certification programs establish the body of knowledge, experience, and education to deliver counseling, evaluation, examination, supervision, and forensic services to clients, attorneys, and the civil/criminal justice system. Becoming certified can mean more job opportunities, job mobility, and even increased income.

NAFC certification is available to professionals working in private practice, general mental health and addiction programs, sex offender programs, domestic violence programs, and more.

Supervised Hour Requirements for Domestic Violence Counselors

Each state has its own requirements for what is approved for licensing. Most states require licensure of a student who has completed a program at an accredited school. This means completing the supervised hour requirements that are the minimum of what the school expects for graduation. In most cases, that is 600 hours of internships and practicum.

According to the California Evidence Code Section §1037.1(a)(1), a domestic violence counselor is someone who is employed, whether volunteer or for payment, by a domestic violence victim service organization. California requires at least 40 hours of training in domestic violence counseling. They also require that the 40 hours of training be supervised by a counselor. Any domestic violence counselor who has less than six months of employment must be supervised by a domestic violence counselor who has at least one year of experience counseling domestic violence victims for the domestic violence victim service organization.

Licensure and Certification of Domestic Violence Counselors

Different states have different requirements for licensure in order to practice as a licensed mental health counselor.

Virtually all states require a minimum of a master’s in counseling along with hundreds of hours of supervised field experience to gain licensure. California’s Board of Behavioral Sciences, for instance, requires completion of a board-certified course of study with at least 60 semester-units of instruction along with 15 semester-units of advanced coursework and a minimum of 280 supervised hours providing face-to-face clinical counseling of individuals, families, or groups.

During your master’s degree work, a prospective domestic violence counselor would complete elective courses, volunteer work, and internships that would prepare them for specialization in domestic violence. Once that is achieved, the prospective counselor might have to undergo additional domestic violence training, as noted above in California Evidence Code Section §1037.1(a)(1).

The North Carolina Board of Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselors, for instance, has three license options. One is a license for counselors who are only allowed to practice under supervision. The LCMHCAs must complete a minimum of 3,000 hours of supervised professional practice in order to qualify to practice without supervision as an LCMHC (non-restricted) licensee. The next level of licensure is the LCMHCS, which is an independent, unrestricted license.

Many states require that potential licensees take and pass a certification exam. After the number of supervised field hours are met, the licensee is then qualified to take the state test and complete their certification.

Domestic Violence Licensure Renewal Requirements

Just as each state has its own licensure and certification requirements, each state has its own renewal requirements. North Carolina requires 40 hours of continuing counselor education for renewal. A minimum of three hours of that is required to be in ethics. Each licensee should check their state’s requirements.

What Do Domestic Violence Counselors Do?

At its most basic level, a domestic violence counselor helps victims of abuse, perpetrators of abuse, or their families with the process of healing. There are many different job responsibilities domestic violence counselors can have depending on where they work.

Domestic violence counselors can work in the following environments:

  • Private therapy practice
  • Group therapy practice
  • Women’s abuse shelters
  • Men’s abuse shelters
  • Public schools
  • Community organizations
  • Public health organizations
  • Law enforcement agencies
  • Government organizations
  • Prisons
  • Military organizations
  • Addiction clinics
  • Sexual trauma centers
  • Religious organizations
  • Halfway houses

Responsibilities vary depending on the work setting. A domestic violence counselor who works in a women’s or men’s abuse shelter, for instance, may be required to do the following:

  • Develop an individual safety plan for a client
  • Respond to callers to a hotline
  • Provide immediate crisis intervention counseling
  • Provide outreach to the community
  • Facilitate support groups and/or house meetings
  • Assist with protective/restraining orders and other court matters
  • Arrange for emergency medical services or law enforcement services as needed
  • Complete intakes for clients requesting shelter

A counselor who works in a private or group therapy practice may need to:

  • Observe family habits
  • Speak with each family member one-on-one
  • Coordinate resources with government agencies, social work agencies, family welfare groups, or other organizations.
  • Work with school counselors or with community programs
  • Visit family members at home
  • Report abuse that they know of or witness
  • Attend a court hearing as a witness

How Much Do Domestic Violence Counselors Make?

These numbers represent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics from May 2019.

Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors

  • Number employed in the U.S.: 283,540
  • Average annual salary (mean): $49,950
  • 10th percentile: $29,520
  • 25th percentile: $35,960
  • 50th percentile (median): $46,240
  • 75th percentile: $59,650
  • 90th percentile: $76,080

Marriage and Family Therapists

  • Number employed in the U.S.: 59,050
  • Average annual salary (mean): $54,590
  • 10th percentile: $32,070
  • 25th percentile: $37,740
  • 50th percentile (median): $49,610
  • 75th percentile: $64,630
  • 90th percentile: $87,700

Domestic Violence Counselor Professional Associations & Resources

  • The National Domestic Violence Hotline
  • National Network to End Domestic Violence
  • Futures Without Violence
  • National Center for Victims of Crime
  • Battering Intervention Services Coalition of Michigan
  • Battered Women’s Justice Project
  • The American Bar Association Commission on Domestic & Sexual Violence
  • Asian-Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence
  • Asian Task Force Against Domestic Violence
  • Center for Survivor Agency and Justice
  • Community United Against Violence
  • Faith Trust Institute
  • Incite! Women of Color Against Violence
  • Jewish Women International – Domestic Violence in the Jewish Community
  • The Women’s Legal Defense and Education Fund
  • The Childhood Violent Trauma Center
  • The National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence
  • The National Clearinghouse on Abuse in Later Life
  • The National Clearinghouse for the Defense of Battered Women
  • The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence
  • The National Council on Child Abuse and Family Violence
  • National Latino Alliance for the Elimination of Domestic Violence
  • The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence
  • The Northwest Network of Bi, Trans, Lesbian and Gay Survivors of Abuse
  • National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center
Vanessa Salvia

Vanessa Salvia

Writer

Vanessa Salvia is an Oregon-based freelance writer and editor with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry. As fun as rigorous studies in math and science were, Vanessa took an independent path and developed a prolific career covering lifestyle and healthcare topics for magazines and newspapers, important industries such as concrete construction and building waterproofing, and even hard science. You can get in touch at Sage Media and Marketing.